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Xconomist of the Week: Evan Snyder—Stem Cell Reality Check

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stem cells really are just a part of fundamental development.

An even more vexing problem has nothing to do with stem cell biology. It has to do with people’s knowledge of the disease state. That’s where probably the biggest obstacle is. It’s with the people studying the disease who don’t know [precisely] what needs to be fixed. As an example, a mother might want us to use stem cells to fix her child’s autism. What’s wrong in autism? What do you want me to fix? I’m ready. I’m here. Just tell me what cell type you want. Tell me what connection you want. Nobody knows.

So I would say the stem cell field is doing really amazingly well, considering how young a field it is. It certainly is if you put it in perspective with other therapies that we now take for granted. For example, everybody does bone marrow transplantation now. We take it for granted. It’s taken us 50 years to be able to make bone marrow transplantation routine. I was an intern in the 1980s, and bone marrow transplantation for kids was still an experimental therapy, and most of the patients died.

X. I guess I was thinking of the enthusiasm surrounding some ventures that were founded to develop gene therapy, where they were using an engineered virus to insert a gene into cells.

ES: There already are ongoing clinical trials that are using stem cells that way. They’re taking a gene and putting it into a stem cell and having it go to areas of injury. There’s a clinical trial to treat brain tumors like that.

When most people think about stem cell research, they think about replacing missing cells—cells that are missing because of a stroke, a spinal cord injury, Parkinson’s, or ALS. You’ve had a heart attack and you want the dead cells replaced. Or you’ve got arthritis and you want your normal joint back.

As a business model, it really depends I suppose on the timeline for the company. It kind of depends on what your VCs are asking of you in terms of how much time you have to get moving and what your target is.

There are some companies that are based on stem cell research that seem to be doing OK. There’s Advanced Cell Technology [in Santa Monica, CA]. They have a clinical trial going for macular degeneration. Stem Cells [based in Newark, CA] has a trial that they’re going to try to … Next Page »

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